Heatwaves can have wide-ranging impacts on businesses, affecting their operations, supply chains, employee well-being, and financial stability. It is crucial for organizations to fully comprehend the specific challenges posed by heatwaves and develop strategies to mitigate these risks. Owen Miles explores…
As the impacts of climate change become increasingly apparent, extreme weather events like heatwaves are posing significant challenges for businesses across Europe.
In July, the world had the hottest week on record, according to preliminary data. It follows the hottest June on record, with unprecedented sea surface temperatures and record low Antarctic Sea ice extent.
To effectively navigate these adversities, organizations must embrace effective critical event management (CEM) strategies and technologies. By adopting proactive measures and leveraging CEM practices, businesses can safeguard their operations, protect their employees, maintain continuity during scorching heatwaves, and contribute to a sustainable future.
Businesses should evaluate the potential impact of heatwaves on critical infrastructure, equipment, and supply chains. Indeed, as research aggregated for all firms in a sample report to The Conversation shows, UK and EU businesses lose almost US$614 million in annual sales for every additional degree of excessive temperature. There have been several other studies from around the world that show the impact. In 2021 a study published in Nature, which was led by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, used a climate model to simulate the impact of heatwaves on the European economy. The study found that heatwaves cost the European economy up to 0.5 percent of GDP between 2003 and 2018 per year when compared to 1981-2010, however, this could increase in Europe five-fold by 2060. The study also found that the economic losses would be concentrated in the southern and eastern parts of Europe, where heatwaves are already more common.
By analysing historical data, weather forecasts, and climate models, organizations can identify areas of high risk and prioritise mitigation efforts.
The operational impacts of extreme heat
Extreme heat can lead to infrastructure failures, power outages, and equipment malfunctions, resulting in operational disruptions and downtime. Businesses must conduct thorough risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities within their operations and develop contingency plans to ensure continuity during extreme heat events. This includes evaluating the resilience of critical infrastructure, such as cooling and power systems and data centres, to withstand high temperatures and increased energy demands. Implementing measures such as backup power systems, redundant cooling solutions, and robust maintenance protocols can enhance infrastructure resilience.
Supply chains can be disrupted due to transportation delays, reduced productivity, or interruptions in the availability of goods and services. Businesses should assess the vulnerabilities within their supply chains, identify potential risks and dependencies, and develop contingency plans to minimise disruptions, as well as monitoring their supply chain for early warning on potential threats. This may involve diversifying suppliers, establishing alternative logistics routes, or maintaining buffer stocks to mitigate the impact of supply chain disruptions caused by extreme heat. Collaborating with suppliers, implementing real-time monitoring systems, and fostering transparent communication can enhance supply chain resilience.
For employees, the main risks relate to heat-related illnesses which can lead to decreased productivity. Companies can prioritise employee well-being by implementing measures such as heat stress prevention training, access to cool spaces, and flexible work arrangements and schedules. This includes educating employees about the signs of heat-related illnesses, providing resources for hydration, and ensuring proper ventilation and cooling systems are in place to maintain a safe and comfortable work environment. Regular communication, awareness campaigns, and comprehensive training programs can empower employees to take proactive measures to protect their health during heatwaves. Of course, for remote workers or employees who are not always in the office, providing this information and training can be a challenge, but staff could be given education and awareness through online or virtual training in an easy to digest manner.
Heatwaves can result in financial losses due to property damage, increased energy costs, reduced sales, and business interruption. Businesses should assess the financial impact of heatwaves, review insurance coverage, and develop risk management strategies to mitigate potential losses. This may involve conducting cost-benefit analyses of resilience investments, exploring insurance options that specifically cover heat-related risks, and establishing business interruption plans that account for heatwave scenarios. Collaborating with insurance providers, engaging in thorough risk assessments, and diversifying revenue streams can strengthen financial resilience.
Proactive measures for heatwave resilience
To effectively mitigate the impact of heatwaves, organizations need to adopt proactive measures that enhance their resilience and ability to withstand extreme heat events.
Businesses should conduct comprehensive risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities within their operations and supply chains which will help to mitigate disruption. This includes analysing historical data, weather forecasts, and climate models to understand the potential impacts of heatwaves on different aspects of the business. Vulnerability mapping can help prioritise mitigation efforts and allocate resources effectively to areas at higher risk. Collaborating with climate scientists, leveraging advanced data analytics, and integrating climate projections into risk assessments can enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of vulnerability mapping. This is not a one-time process and should be undertaken on a regular basis and particularly when a heatwave is impacting a region, given that the severity and impact may not have been fully understood prior to the event taking place.
Businesses should identify critical suppliers, evaluate their exposure to heat-related risks, and develop alternative sourcing options to minimise disruptions. Collaborative relationships with suppliers can provide valuable insights into their own resilience measures and contingency plans, allowing for joint efforts to enhance supply chain resilience. Sharing data, conducting joint risk assessments, and establishing clear communication channels can facilitate effective collaboration and enable proactive supply chain management during heatwaves.
Longer term, investing in infrastructure upgrades and technology solutions is crucial for enhancing resilience against extreme heat. Businesses should consider measures such as installing or upgrading cooling systems, insulation, and ventilation. This may involve adopting energy-efficient technologies, implementing green building practices, and exploring innovative solutions like heat-reflective materials and smart building automation systems to reduce heat absorption and optimise energy consumption. Embracing emerging technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics can enable proactive monitoring of infrastructure and early detection of potential vulnerabilities, so long as these systems are linked to the digitised response and communications plans in an automated manner.
Adapting business processes to withstand heatwaves is crucial for maintaining operations. This may involve adjusting production schedules to avoid peak heat hours, re-implementing remote work policies rescinded following the return to work after COVID-19, or establishing contingency plans for temporary shutdowns or reduced capacity during extreme heat events. By assessing critical functions and operations, businesses can prioritise and allocate resources effectively to ensure continuity. This includes evaluating the feasibility of remote work options, implementing flexible scheduling, and optimising production processes to minimise heat-related risks. Empowering employees with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from heat-related hazards through comprehensive training programs, access to cooling facilities, and clear protocols can foster a culture of resilience and adaptability.
With employee well-being at the forefront, CEM enables businesses to prioritise safety measures during heatwaves. By educating employees on heat stress prevention, providing access to hydration stations and cool spaces, such as air conditioned rooms, and adjusting work schedules to avoid peak temperatures, organizations demonstrate their commitment to employee welfare. Such initiatives not only ensure a healthy workforce but also bolster employee morale and productivity. Ensuring the safety and well-being of employees is a critical aspect of CEM.
Employers may need to implement flexible working hours, allowing early morning or late evening shifts, or provide additional breaks during hot periods. They should also consider adjusting dress codes to allow for lighter and breathable clothing.
Implementing systems to monitor heat stress levels can help businesses assess the risk to employees in real-time. This can involve using heat stress indices, monitoring equipment, or wearable devices that measure body temperature or heart rate. Regular monitoring allows employers to take prompt action when heat stress levels reach dangerous thresholds.
Of course, monitoring is only useful when it is monitored itself. Without an automated process to communicate when a threshold is breached, when systems are out of operational parameters or employees are at risk gives no benefit to organizations. Monitoring needs to be connected to responders, so the right people know at the right time. Critical event management solutions deliver this capability and enrich it by facilitating automated communication plans and the initiation of operationalised response plans.
Implementing employee assistance programs (EAPs) can offer additional support during heatwaves. EAPs provide access to counselling services, mental health resources, and assistance for employees facing personal or work-related challenges resulting from the heat wave.
By prioritising employee safety and well-being, businesses demonstrate their commitment to their workforce and create a supportive work environment. Protecting employees from heat-related risks not only mitigates health and safety concerns but also fosters employee morale, productivity, and loyalty. Ultimately, a healthy and well-supported workforce contributes to the overall resilience and success of the organization.
Effective communication and stakeholder engagement
Effective communication and stakeholder engagement are paramount during heatwaves to keep employees, customers, and stakeholders informed about risks, preventative measures, and available support.
Businesses should establish clear communication channels with employees to provide regular updates, safety guidelines, emergency protocols, and information based on current events. This can be achieved through emails, SMS, voice calls, newsletters, notice boards, digital platforms and mobile applications. Employers should provide channels for employees to report concerns or seek assistance. Regular communication helps build trust, increases employee engagement, and ensures everyone is informed and prepared. In addition, involving employees in the development of heatwave response plans, conducting surveys to gather feedback, and organizing employee engagement initiatives can foster a sense of ownership and resilience within the workforce.
The same applies to customers. Businesses should provide updates on any potential disruptions to services, changes in operating hours, or alternative arrangements. Clear communication channels, such as websites, social media platforms, and customer service hotlines, should be available to address customer inquiries and concerns. Businesses should also engage with local communities and stakeholders to share information and collaborate on heatwave preparedness and response efforts. Actively seeking feedback, conducting customer satisfaction surveys, and implementing customer-focused communication strategies can enhance customer loyalty and strengthen relationships.
Engaging with government agencies, policymakers, and industry associations is crucial for influencing and shaping policies related to heatwave resilience. Businesses can participate in public-private partnerships, provide input on heatwave preparedness plans, and advocate for policies that prioritise climate resilience. Collaborative engagement helps create an enabling environment for businesses to adapt to heatwaves effectively. Additionally, collaborating with stakeholders, sharing best practices, and participating in industry forums and initiatives can foster knowledge exchange, facilitate joint resilience efforts, and enhance overall community resilience.
Continual improvement and adaptation
Resilience to extreme heat events is an ongoing process that requires continual improvement and adaptation. Businesses should regularly review and update their strategies, conduct post-event evaluations, and incorporate lessons learned into their future planning.
Strategies can be updated based on changing climate conditions, emerging best practices, and lessons learned from previous events. This includes reassessing vulnerabilities, conducting new risk assessments, and adjusting mitigation measures to address evolving heatwave risks. Collaboration with external experts, staying informed about industry trends, and leveraging data analytics can inform the review and evaluation processes.
Following a heatwave event, businesses should conduct post-event evaluations to assess the effectiveness of their resilience measures and identify areas for improvement. This may involve gathering feedback from employees, analysing operational data, and conducting internal and external assessments to understand strengths and weaknesses in the response efforts. The insights gained from post-event evaluations should be systematically documented and incorporated into future planning processes.
Businesses should foster a culture of learning and adaptation, where insights and feedback from heatwave events are integrated into future planning and decision-making processes. By embracing a continuous improvement mindset, businesses can enhance their adaptive capacity and remain resilient in the face of changing climate conditions. Investing in research and development efforts focused on heatwave resilience, leveraging emerging technologies, and participating in collaborative initiatives can facilitate learning and adaptation.
Heatwaves present formidable challenges to businesses, demanding a proactive and strategic response. Embracing critical event management technologies empowers them to navigate these crises effectively. By understanding the impact of heatwaves, adopting proactive measures, fostering collaboration, ensuring effective communication, and prioritising effective, digitised and operationalised responses, businesses can safeguard their operations, build resilience, protect their employees and emerge stronger. Through continuous improvement, adaptation, and collaboration, businesses can pave the way for a resilient and prosperous future in the face of heatwaves and other climate-related challenges.
Owen Miles is Field CTO, CEM Business Solutions, Everbridge.